Indonesia goes south as sharia law spreads

Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world, and is often seen as more modern than its Middle Eastern counterparts. We would hope, then, that if Islam is to become more moderate, Indonesia would serve as a bellwether for that change.

Sadly, it seems to be the opposite. As reported in Thursday’s New York Times, One province, Aceh, established full sharia law 15 years ago, and the rest of the country seems to be following suit.

In Aceh, women are required to dress modestly, alcohol is prohibited, and numerous offenses — from adultery to homosexuality to selling alcohol — are punishable by public whipping.

Here’s a guy about to be publicly whipped for “dating outside marriage”. Now I’m not sure if that’s adultery, but whatever it is doesn’t deserve public shaming.


(from NYT): August. The youth was punished for dating outside marriage, which is against Shariah, or Islamic law. Credit Chaideer Mahyuddin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The NYT further reports:

In the decade and a half since, Indonesia as a whole has drifted in a conservative direction, and Aceh, once an outlier, has become a model for other regions of the country seeking to impose their own Shariah-based ordinances, alarming those who worry about the nation’s drift from secularism.

“Whenever Aceh issues a law, saying it’s the highest order of Shariah, it provokes others to do the same thing,” said Andy Yentriani, a former commissioner on Indonesia’s National Commission on Violence Against Women, who wants the national government to repeal certain Shariah-based regulations as violations of the Indonesian Constitution.

A recent study found that more than 442 Shariah-based ordinances have been passed throughout the nation since 1999, when Jakarta gave provinces and districts substantial powers to make their own laws. These include regulations concerning female attire, the mixing of the sexes and alcohol.

Before Aceh instituted sharia law, there were discos, alcohol, and the sexes intermingled freely. The discos and booze are gone now, and sexes sit apart at any public gathering. And things don’t look like they’re getting better.

Islamist leaders from outside the province are hoping to push things further here. In late December, Rizieq Shihab, a firebrand preacher who leads the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front, a national organization that led the campaign to have Jakarta’s Christian governor prosecuted on blasphemy charges, gave a fiery speech before a crowd in Banda Aceh.

“When Islam first came to Indonesia it entered through Aceh, correct?” he asked the crowd. “Correct!” the crowd thundered back.

“Aceh is a model for the entire Indonesian nation,” the preacher continued. “It must become the locomotive for the movement to apply Shariah law throughout Indonesia. Agreed?” he asked the crowd.

Is there any Muslim-majority country in the world becoming more moderate and less Islamist? I would have said Turkey a few years ago, but that was before Recep Erdoğan and his dictatorial incipient theocracy. I can’t think of any nations that fill the bill. It looks like Islam’s oppression of gays, apostates, atheists, and women will continue to grow, and, as I’m not a cultural relativist, that’s something frightening to contemplate.

h/t: Diane G.


  1. GBJames
    Posted January 14, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Maybe Morocco?

  2. garthdaisy
    Posted January 14, 2017 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    I read somewhere that Islam is a religion of peace so unless you’re against peace you should probably lay off Islam. Also you may want to take a test to see if you are racist towards Indonesians. Sounds like you might be. I think there’s a quickie dipstick test for that now. 😉

    • zoolady
      Posted January 14, 2017 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      Wait–you “read somewhere” that Islam is a religion of peace? Are you suggesting that beatings, stonings, genital mutilation of girls, and murder of apostates are ”peaceful?” I’ve traveled in six Muslim nations and can tell you that women are oppressed in every one of them. Is THAT your idea of ”peace?” Finally, Indonesia is a nation with many ethnicities, so it’s not possible to be ”racist” about them. But, when all else fails, use that word to insult people who are critical of Islam. The only ”quickie dipstick test” seems to apply to your assumption of ”racism.”

      • Michiel
        Posted January 14, 2017 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        I think your sarcasm detector is in need of repair.

        • Filippo
          Posted January 16, 2017 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

          Could be.

          Perhaps it’s also true that the occasional sarcasm generator requires maintenance.

          • zoolady
            Posted January 17, 2017 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

            That wasn’t sarcasm. It’s clearly written to reflect an opinion.

            • Diane G.
              Posted January 17, 2017 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

              Oh, please.

              ” I think there’s a quickie dipstick test for that now. 😉 ”

              You took that literally?

    • Posted January 15, 2017 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      Islam, is not a religion of peace. Chapter 9 of the quran, Surah Al-Taubah, is the most violent of all chapters, their “God” commands them to kill and ambush, don’t even go to Surah Al-Taubah, Read the first chapter, Surah AL-Fatihah, which commands killing except in or near mosque. Stop reading somewhere, read the Qu’ran. I have read it and it sounds like the writer had a personal vendetta against jews and Christians and seemed to know more about their religion than they do, anyway, God bless you all.

  3. rickflick
    Posted January 14, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Good grief!

  4. Claudia Baker
    Posted January 14, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Indonesia is a country I’ve always wanted to visit. Now…maybe not. More and more places are becoming just too scary for a woman to go to alone, as I do most of my travelling by myself. So disheartening.

    And, the size of the crowd gathered in the image attached to this post, waiting to watch someone be whipped. F’n hell! It’s all so barbaric.

    • jardino
      Posted January 14, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      Some with cameras, too!

      And are the four people helping the poor lad on to the platform women? Perhaps they should be whipped too for touching a male body outside of wedlock.

      • barriejohn
        Posted January 15, 2017 at 2:30 am | Permalink

        I think it’s a woman, actually!

    • Posted January 14, 2017 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      I think it is just human nature. Europeans also flocked to squares to watch public beatings and executions.

  5. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 14, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    I have an Indonesian friend who is ethnically also Chinese and Christian so you can imagine she got the hell out of Dodge as fast as she could because the Chinese were discriminated against horribly and non Muslims weren’t exactly favoured. She has told me a lot of horror stories about living there.

  6. W.Benson
    Posted January 14, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Albania seems rather more rational than a number of Christian and supposed secular countries, but I may be wrong. But Kosovo is not far away (as the crow flies).

  7. Jenny Haniver
    Posted January 14, 2017 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    In light of this disturbing trend, if one (such as I) doesn’t know much about religion in Indonesia, it is instructive to read the Wiki on the topic, and Google the subject for more.

  8. Jonathan Dore
    Posted January 14, 2017 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Morocco and Kosovo seem to be holding the line on sanity, and Tunisia is probably the best example of a country that is actually trying to liberalize. But in terms of population they are of course sadly dwarfed by both Turkey and Indonesia.

  9. Christopher Bonds
    Posted January 14, 2017 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    I wish people could join together on the basis of their basic needs, especially food. Almost every country has its own cuisine, with many delicious dishes to sample. It seems like it would be hard to hate other people with whom you are sharing a great meal (unless of course it’s a set-up, after which the guest will be murdered, like in the mafia.)

    Then maybe they would get less excited about coercive religious behavior. On the other hand, maybe not.

    • steve
      Posted January 15, 2017 at 6:59 am | Permalink

      That would be cultural appropriation! (snark)

  10. Stephen Barnard
    Posted January 14, 2017 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I worry about Bali, part of Indonesia that is overwhelmingly Hindu.

    • Filippo
      Posted January 16, 2017 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      I also imagine that the folks in East Timor are keenly keeping watch.

    • Posted February 14, 2017 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      I’m Balinese.. I’m also worry about our ethic would be vanished. Sometimes hardline islam

      • Posted February 14, 2017 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

        Announced again us just because we are open to tourism

  11. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted January 14, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a guy about to be publicly whipped for “dating outside marriage”.

    Comparing the dress of the two groups of “guards”, and which ones are handling the about-to-be-whipped person, the persona about to get a flogging is female.
    Personally, I and many of my school-mates, suspected the sexual tastes of the members of staff who were heavier in their use of the cane. And exactly the same suspicion extends to places with public flogging.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 14, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      Oh, moustaches. I forgot the moustaches in the gender-assignment exercise.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 14, 2017 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      No, if you go to the article, the next picture shows the guy getting whipped…

      And they have a snazzy costume for the whipper.

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 14, 2017 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

        (I wonder if the white garments of the whippee are intended to show the blood better?)

        • GBJames
          Posted January 14, 2017 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

          Most certainly.

      • Dionigi
        Posted January 14, 2017 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

        The second photo shows underneath that it was taken at a different time and is of a different incident.
        The fact that the person being helped is wearing white trousers and the second black akso shows the difference.
        The first victim is most likely a female as the guards are female.

        • Diane G.
          Posted January 15, 2017 at 2:52 am | Permalink

          Doh! Thanks to you & barriejohn for pointing out the obvious. I need to learn to slow down and pay attention rather than skimming through articles and not paying close attention to pictures.

      • barriejohn
        Posted January 15, 2017 at 2:35 am | Permalink

        The next photo is of a different occasion – different trousers for one thing – and I think the guy with the whip is visible in the first, wearing a uniform. It looks like a woman to me.

  12. Posted January 14, 2017 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    This is probably a naive question but I would appreciate a little insight: what prohibits bands of secular people in places like Aceh from closely “trailing” the religious police who stalk people and look for violations of their stupid codes? Are the numbers of secular people in places like Aceh dwindling to near zero?

    Keeping close tabs on nutjobs is most certainly a very effective way of scattering the nutjobs, driving them back under their rocks, thus rendering them harmless to ordinary peace- loving people.

    Perhaps counter-stalking is also explicitly illegal? Could be. It wouldn’t surprise me.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 14, 2017 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, remember that any secular people are apostates so, IIANM, legal to kill…

      I would not want to be any kind of minority in a country/province/state ruled by Sharia.

      • GBJames
        Posted January 14, 2017 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        Being in the majority would also probably suck.

    • somer
      Posted January 14, 2017 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

      Aceh has always been the most religious province of Indonesia – it fought a war of independence from the rest of Indonesia for many years and finally peace was made after the tsunami of 2004 when it was granted near autonomy and imposed Shariah law (which had always been one of its key concerns in the struggle)

      I think there would be very few secular people in Aceh – sharia is popular there

    • barriejohn
      Posted January 15, 2017 at 2:38 am | Permalink

      You mean in the same way that liberal Germans defeated the Nazis? It just doesn’t work in a fascist state!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 15, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      It’s dangerous to be openly secular in a place like Indonesia. My friend says you can’t really speak out against religion or government and if you even make an off comment, someone can report you to authorities. You can be imprisoned for criticizing religion.

  13. Fernando
    Posted January 14, 2017 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” Manuel II Palaiologos, quoted by Ratzinger a few years ago. So true.

  14. Posted January 14, 2017 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    I am saddened but, unfortunately, not surprised at all.

  15. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 14, 2017 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, well, the Indonesian mullahs are shoveling shit against the tide, bucking the long arc of history. That arc doesn’t bend monotonically; sometimes it’s one degree forward, one back. But bend it does, in the direction of the emancipation of women, the freedoms of conscience and expression, and the right to self-determination free from autocratic rule.

    • somer
      Posted January 14, 2017 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      Im afraid Im not so optimistic – it does if technological and social factors making women’s emancipation continue to be compatible with stable and healthy population, whilst curbing the opportunist imperialism/ aggressive superiority complex tucked away in almost all cultures – a cultural tendency that always threatens the former gains.

  16. Posted January 14, 2017 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    Sierra Leone is known to be extremely tolerant of other faiths and yet is majority Muslim:

  17. Justin
    Posted January 14, 2017 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    But Reza Aslan told me that Indonesia is peaceful and the genders are equal. He couldn’t have been entirely full of shit, could he?

  18. Zugswang
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    There is a dire need for reformation in islam. Societies must, in envisioning the ideal model they ought strive for, not look backwards to the dark ages to find a 2000 year old doctrine of barbarism and war. Can secularism and its ideals survive in an increasingly religiously polarized global society?

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